Friends, what comes to mind when you hear the word refuge?
What sorts of images fill your head? Feelings you have?
Feel free to write them in the comments section.
The Book of Psalms, Hebrew תְּהִלִּים or תהילים, or Tehillim (praises), is the first book of the Ketuvim [Writings), in the 3rd section of the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament by Christians. The Psalms, as you probably know, are poetic expressions of doubt, faith, human emotion, and many of them were written as music.
This particular Psalm illustrates a world view that Yahweh [the divine/God] is associated with a building, and that space is a refuge.
People love their buildings, don’t they? Especially in religions. Think about the grand structures humans have built over the years–great cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Often we venerate them, and for many religious people, these buildings house the very presence of the Divine.
But buildings fall, and they don’t last forever. This was the case with Jerusalem’s temple.
So then what? If God is the City of refuge and this God is contained in the temple [the city of God], what happens when this city is destroyed? Where is God?
This of course is institutional, establishment thinking. I argue that it’s one of the major pitfall of all religions. This idea of the Divine being established in a place or institution leads to misuse of power and marginalization of people. It also limits who has access to the Divine. The idolatry of a building or a religious institution only leads us down a dangerous and unhealthy path.
So what if the Divine “abides” but not in a building, but in us and all creation? How does that contradict the idea of institutional religion?
God/the Divine can be looked at as the embodiment of love and truth. God is the source of love and truth. So when we are “at home” in God we are “at home” in love and truth. This is the idea of a sanctuary or a refuge, but not one contained in a building, a place, or even in a religion. The safe haven of love and truth travels with us throughout life, wherever we are. It is an abiding refuge and we can always go back to it.
In essence, God is with you when you roam through dry deserts with no end in sight; when you’re drowning in your tears; when you’re lost in the forest; when you feel overwhelmed; God is with you when you’re finally able to celebrate something; when you make a positive change in your life; when you discover love.
God is at home in you when you are most at home in yourself, most able to be wholly you. Our lives and all of nature are sacred spaces. No need for temples or spires or crosses or gold domes or ancient halls or stained glass. Wherever we are on our journey we are at home in God.
But I also recognize that for some, their inner thoughts are not a refuge. People who have suffered great trauma or who have been abused or neglected–the inner voices within may not be comforting. It can feel very isolating. So with love, I hope that if you feel this way, you’ll be close to a friend or someone who feels like a refuge for you. Someone who accepts and loves you as you are.
May you find refuge within yourself; may you find refuge in others who accept you; may you be refuge for those who need it.